Home Of The Tooth

Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
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Sunday, December 2, 2012

As we were sketching out our trip through Asia, we had picked out a number of festivals that we wanted to check out and one that had always been a curiosity for me were the extravagant, usually Hindu, elephant festivals. There are a number of these held in India and other parts of Asia where elephants are an integral part of ceremonies and processions so it seemed like it would be a slam-dunk to find one as we traveled the area. However, two elephant sized red flags popped up as we were looking at the options that might be available to us. First there was the caution that these festivals, particularly in India, are horrendously crowded, and when they give you a crowd caution in India you best take heed- I'm fairly certain that 'crowd' is an Indian word for "how many freakin' people can they squeeze onto this bus??" And perhaps even more concerning (unless of course, you happen to be reading this while traveling on a bus in India) were the allegations of animal cruelty with respect to the elephants used in these events. These animals have to endure long and noisy parades, loud firecrackers, may need to stand near flames, travel long distances in open shabby vehicles and walk on tarred roads in the scorching sun for hours, denied even food, water and sleep, in the name of religion and tourism. They are also often abused by drunk and brutal mahouts. After her emotional meltdown following our visit to an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, DH wasn`t signing up for any adventures that had even the hint of elephant cruelty. But, as we`ve found often times on this trip, fate just has a way of intervening. .

We were out wandering the streets of Kandy on a mission to find a Sri Lankan pharmacy- I had picked up a persistent cough some weeks back that annoyed the Princess to such a degree that she developed an even more annoying cough (if Sri Lanka had Sea Lions, they would have been convinced that mating season had started early). There was some sort of Buddhist holiday happening so our options were limited but we did find a food store where the girl offered up some nondescript pills wrapped in foil that she pulled out from under the counter. We had tried just about everything else so why not?? After all, what could possibly go wrong with taking unlabeled, unpackaged medicine that is stored under the counter of a Sri Lankan food store?

On our way back to the guesthouse we were passing The Temple of The Tooth when loud gunshot-type sounds greeted us (the temple was the target of a terrorist bombing in 1998 so gunshots were not to be taken lightly). DH, where the D stands for Duck For Cover, called on her police training and did a stop, drop, and roll in behind a cement pillar. Since that was the only cover nearby and she wasn't sharing, I started fiddling with my camera in order to document whatever mayhem was coming for the loyal reader of our blog. And marching straight at us were a bunch of Sri Lankan dudes with 10' bullwhips snapping the air with a surprisingly loud effect (I wish I had one of these back in my working days- the sound alone would have bumped productivity five fold). What we were seeing was an impromptu, and smaller, version of Esala Perahera (the festival of the tooth) which is the biggest festival of Kandy (normally held in July or August). The modern Perahera dates back to the mid 1700`s. During these times, the Tooth Relic (from the original Buddha) was considered private property of the King and the public never got a chance to worship it. However, King Rajasinghe decreed that the Relic be taken in procession for the masses to see and venerate. Its a very important Buddhist festival consisting of dancers and decorated elephants`, and is normally held at night (tougher for the photography). We never did find out why this one was happening, but it obviously wasn`t well publicized because other than a handful of locals who had come running, we had the parade largely to ourselves... and what a parade it was. 

The slightly crazed whip guys were an ancient form of crowd control (although it was pretty effective on the modern crowds as well) and a signal of bigger things to come. With the path clear, along come the Buddhist flag bearers. Then, riding on the first elephant, is the official called Peramuna Rala (Front Official). He is followed by Kandyan drummers and dancers who supposedly work the crowd (if there was one) into a frenzy, and are themselves followed by elephants and additional groupings of musicians, dancers and flag bearers. A group of singers dressed in white heralds the arrival of the Maligawa Tusker carrying the Sacred Tooth Relic.The relic casket, which is a substitute for the Tooth Relic, is placed inside a special container affixed to the Maligawa Elephant. I`m not sure that a tooth substitute, inside a container, on top of a tall elephant is exactly what the King had in mind for sharing with masses but everyone in attendance seemed more than thrilled.

The next day we did manage a visit to Sri Dalada Maligawa or The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic without the whips. It was built within the royal palace complex which houses the only surviving relic of the original Buddha, a tooth, which is venerated by Buddhists. The relic has played an important role in the local politics since ancient times, it's believed that whoever holds the relic holds the governance of the country, which caused the ancient kings to protect it with great effort. On Wednesdays, the day we attended, there is a symbolic bathing of the Sacred Relic with an herbal preparation made from scented water and flagrant flowers, called Nanumura Mangallaya. This holy water is believed to contain healing powers and is distributed among those present.

We had a great time in Kandy with visits to a number of ancient temples and a Sri Lankan dance show. Kandy was the capital of the Sinhalese Kings from 1592 to 1815, fortified by the terrain of the mountains and the difficult approach. The city is a world heritage site as declared by UNESCO, and was a fun place to wander around. 
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Comments

Elaine & Doug on

Very funny commentary! (we especially loved the 'cough' paragraph).

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